Bonhoeffer captured the heart of the royal priesthood (1 Pt 2.9):
The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together).
Can the American church be redeemed from baptized consumerism? Only as we are liberated from church-as-commodity to church-as-community. Commodities are those things measured by their value or benefit to customers. Supply and demand. Trends and markets. Speculations and hype. Living for the next big thing. A little pick-me-up when you’re feeling low. Little investment now in hopes of big returns later.
Church is not a subset of the modern American life. It’s the alternative to it. We are baptized into a sojourning community who refuses to be at home in this world. We refuse to see our brother in Christ as a project or means to end. And the brotherly congregation we call the local church isn’t for my taking or leaving. The church compels my perseverance in hope that the gospel we believe is still actually true.
We too easily treat the church as a playbill listing all the actors performing holiness for each other. We leave as critics on whether or not the performances were to our liking. We grade one another on how well we made one another feel. We sit in judgment on the bit players because they forgot a line or missed a cue.
The church, by definition, is a community of non-performers. She is a people who has stopped trying to impress and be impressed by one another (2 Cor 5.16-17). She is very peculiar to the world (1 Pt 2.9-10).
We don’t exist to make each other feel like hell, but to reach for heaven. Better yet, to regularly convince and be convinced heaven has reached down to us. Paul explained it this way: those at peace with God through Christ “exult in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5.2). The very glory from which we’ve all fallen short (Rom 3.23), the chasm from which that has been bridged in Christ.
The world measures us by what we do. We are what we produce. The church is measured by what has been done to and for us. We are what He produced.
All across the fruited plan impressive buildings with signs saying they are a church will be full of people. But just as “they are not all Israel who are from Israel” (Rom 9.6), they are not all the church who fill the pews. They are the church who “needs his brother solely for Jesus Christ.”
We are not the strong ones everyone else is privileged to witness. We are the weak ones who need the Christ in our brother. We do not gather together to feel at home, but to remind one another we’re still aliens, strangers and sojourners who live to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 6.33). Israel hungered, thirsted and complained; the church hungers, thirsts and rejoices. We resist the world’s choice food (entertainment, celebrity, self-esteem, self-righteousness) to live on Living Bread and New Wine until Christ prepares his meal for us (Rev 18.7-9). God has indeed set a table in the wilderness (Ps 78.19) and it’s not a table for one.